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Where did you get that pig? Experimental work on strontium isotopes in porcine enamel; tracking pork supplies in prehistory.

22 July 2009

Richard Madgwick, postgraduate researcher, and Jacqui Mulville have been awarded the equivalent of £16,200 by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Isotope Geosciences Facilities Steering Committee (NIGFSC) for analytical support.

Recent research has addressed animal movements, population origins and the presence of non-local individuals through strontium isotope ratio analysis of dental tissues (i.e. where the animals/humans lived is reflected in the chemical make-up of their teeth), but the applicability of these methodologies to pigs may be problematic due to differences in tooth structure making pig teeth more susceptible to changes after death, e.g. by the movement of material into/out of the tooth from the soil. This research will examine the diagenetic processes affecting tooth enamel of different animal species to evaluate their integrity and value in strontium isotope analysis (or in simple terms we will find out through experimentation if the chemistry of pig teeth changes after death and during burial).

This project has developed from Richard’s work on the pig remains from the National Museum Wales excavation at National Museum Wales excavation at Llanmaes, a Bronze Age site just outside Cardiff. Here the animal remains are made up almost exclusively the right hand forequarters of pigs. This suggests that people came to the site with these joints of meat which set up to wondering where the pigs, and indeed the people providing the pork came from.  To do this archaeologists normally use strontium but with some doubts over the porosity of pigs tooth enamel, as opposed to the more mineralised teeth of say humans, we decided to run some experiments to see if porcine teeth are susceptible to change.  If not then we should be able to use strontium to find out from where the pigs were procured.